Inkyard Press ($18.99)
by Helena Ducusin
Tremendous progress has been made in the past several decades in the realm of LGBTQ+ rights and representation. Because of this, it can be easy for younger readers to feel disconnected from the history of overt discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community. Robin Talley’s historical fiction novel Music From Another World engages present readers with its dynamic characters who navigate social pressures while grappling with feelings of isolation. Such desire for belonging persists in present time, and Talley’s novel resonates shockingly well, connecting readers to a history they may not know.
Music From Another World traces the letters of two teenage pen pals, Tammy and Sharon, as they decipher their identities in their surrounding religious communities. Tammy is a lesbian and has not told anyone, especially not her Baptist and actively homophobic family, while Sharon’s brother confided in her that he is gay and made her swear not to tell their devoutly Catholic mother. The girls are matched as pen pals through a school assignment, and at first, they’re exactly that. They exchange favorite TV shows, hobbies, and follow the list of questions on the assignment sheet. That is, until, Tammy suggests a pledge of honesty—no crossing words out, no rereading before you send, and no sharing with anyone else. Sharon agrees, and the two enter into a more intimate friendship.
As the book progresses, Tammy and Sharon each seek out places where they feel at home and people around whom they can genuinely express themselves. Their experiences are unique, so they are able to grow individually while sharing their experiences with each other. The author’s choice to alternate between their letters and entries in their personal diaries further enriches their characters and allows the reader to intimately experience the layers of secrecy each girl is grappling with. “The two ultimately show different ways of finding yourself when your surrounding community isn’t accepting of you.”
When Tammy and Sharon both become engulfed in the political campaign of civil rights activist Harvey Milk, they face the consequences of dissenting from their families’ beliefs. Similar homophobia and rejection is still very much present in some conservative or religious communities today, and presenting this dynamic to a young demographic is likely to enable queer and questioning readers to feel accepted and heard, even if their own communities reject them.
This novel continues Talley’s streak of writing captivating stories that depict the queer teenage experience and provide LGBTQ+ youth with complex, empathetic characters in historical settings not typically represented in mainstream media and education. Tammy and Sharon are characterized as young women who actively seek to understand themselves and their beliefs while forming meaningful friendships with people who support them and encourage them to express their true selves. Tammy writes in her diary a question that many queer people have wrestled with in their lifetime: “I want to be proud of who I am, the way you are, but how? How do you make yourself feel something when everyone around you believes the exact opposite?”
Talley’s novel emphasizes the universal desire for belonging, while also illuminating much-needed LGBTQ representation in historical fiction. Young adult readers are sure to be enthralled by the depth of Tammy and Sharon’s friendship, their active fight for equal rights within their communities, and their inner battles between the values of their childhood and their identities.